SPORT How motorsport found its true colors

6 min

To celebrate the new TAG Heuer Formula 1 chronographs in bright racing hues, we’re digging into the history of color in motorsport.

If you place someone who’s new to motorsport in front of the television during a race, they’re not going to recognize the names of the teams or the drivers. They’re not going to launch into conversations about racing strategies. They’re not going to look at lap times and pit stops. What they will notice first are the colors that adorn the cars, the liveries, the flags. Motorsport is a kaleidoscope of blurry, vivid, thunderous road machines surrounded by fans and race officials wearing and waving colorful objects. As you watch the sport unfold, the hues are what leap out of the screens, off the racetracks, before anything else. It’s easy to believe that color is what makes racing even more exciting. Seeing red, yellow, green cars scream past you is quite thrilling. These colors help you understand the action better. They help you differentiate your favorites from their competitors. Color, like TAG Heuer, is part of racing’s rich history and heritage. And that’s why we want to celebrate the shades that inspired, and continue to inspire, racing.

The carefree days of color

Before logos. Before sponsorships. Before liveries. Before all of this, there was the early 1900s. A time when you would look out onto a racetrack and cheer on ‘the red car’ or ‘the green car’. These were the days when racing was young and carefree. Car makers could use any color they liked. And if a driver owned the car, they might’ve even painted their car the color of their national flags. There were no rules, no regulations, no racing body to tell you what you can and cannot do. And so the tracks were filled with random hues. It wasn’t always easy viewing for spectators, especially during a race in which the cars looked quite similar. So which car are you rooting for? Er, the red one.

TAG Heuer Formula 1 chronograph (CAZ101AN.FT8055)

New rules, new colors

As racing evolved and became more popular, it needed to be codified. It needed a framework. But to do this, the sport needed an organization to oversee it. In 1904, an association of national motor clubs called the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) was founded in Paris. It came together to represent the interests of race car drivers and to govern the growing motorsport scene. At the time, some cars had numbers painted on their sides, so it was easier to know which driver was driving for which team. But soon, the AIACR started to introduce rules around colors. They decided that the best way to separate the cars was to assign colors based on the nationalities of the competitors. It had been done before. During a major racing event in 1900, France chose the color blue, Belgium adopted yellow, Germany went white and the United States picked red. Eventually, more and more countries entered the world of racing. And since there are only so many solid colors, new color combinations started to appear on track.

Everlasting shades

OK, here’s where things got a little more creative. Between the 1920s and 1940s, racetracks started to evolve into streams of eye-catching, iconic colors. Hues that racing enthusiasts talk about even today. Rosso Corsa. Bleu de France. British racing green. The German cars started to drop their preferred white and expose their cars with naked sheets of metal. This inspired the name “silver arrows”. Time flew by watching these beautiful shades race around tracks across the world. Every year brought new or slightly altered hues. After the war, it was the nationality of the team creating the vehicle whose colors would grace the car. 

TAG Heuer Formula 1 chronograph (CAZ101AP.FT8056)

A whole new era

It’s the late 1960s. The 1968 season, to be precise. A time when major sponsors and leading car makers saw an opportunity to make the sport flashier, while also showcasing their brands. And so a whole new era was born on the racetrack. Sponsorship liveries became the new attraction. These kinds of liveries were already being used in some motorsports in the United States. Fans loved seeing their favorite cars in sleekly designed color combinations. While new shapes, new angles and new stripes made their way onto the liveries, classic colors like Rosso Corsa and British Racing Green continued to be used. Many sponsorship liveries have become the stuff of legends. Even today, you’ll see fans reminiscing and even wearing souvenirs influenced by these liveries. 

TAG Heuer Formula 1 chronograph (CAZ101AM.FT8054)

The colors are alive and well

At TAG Heuer, we’re giving our popular TAG Heuer Formula 1 collection three new shades – green, yellow and red. The most classic colors of the sport. These bright and evocative models will be familiar to any racing fan. Each one of these statement quartz chronographs captures the spirit of the first-ever TAG Heuer Formula 1 pieces from the 1980s. Daring, edgy and audacious, you’ll find these colors on racetracks even now. Flags, lights, track markings and team liveries. These hues dot, and will continue to dot, the motorsport palette for years to come. If you’d like to know more about the collection, race over to our